Across the pond, Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel made a name for himself with acclaimed movies like “King’s Game,” but is probably best-known to American audiences for penning the Swedish film adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” starring breakout leading lady Noomi Rapace.
This year, Arcel returns with “A Royal Affair,” a Danish period drama he directed and co-wrote with his friend, Rasmus Heisterberg. The film tells the true story of Queen Caroline Mathilde, a young Brit who married Denmark’s mentally ill King Christian VII but soon fell in love with his royal physician. The two began a passionate affair – instigating a wave of social change and reform that would forever change Denmark.
The East Valley Tribune briefly chatted with Arcel about the film, the challenges he encountered directing a period drama and the modern, political parallels he hopes audiences take away from the movie.
To begin with, could you tell me about the writing process for “A Royal Affair”?
The writing process was fairly long, we spent a year doing research, my co-writer and me. We spent a full year doing research on the actual events and going back into the historical archives, reading a lot of historical books and talking to historians. Finally, we had a draft after one year of work and that was basically the process.
How long did it take to shoot the film and what were some of the challenges you faced in its production?
This was about 40 days of shooting, which is a bit longer than a regular Danish film but it’s not that long for a period film, I guess, it’s like an in-between. We were shooting in the Czech Republic. We couldn’t find any sort of locations that looked like the 1760s in Denmark so we had to go to the Czech Republic to find them.
There were challenges every day of shooting because it’s really tough to make a period film. Nothing looks like it did back then so you basically have to create that world. Not only the costumes and the wigs and the extras and the horses and all that, but you also have to create a world that doesn’t exist anymore, in terms of the old castles and buildings.
Everything sort of has these new challenges in terms of trying to pretend we’re in the 1760s and also, how did these people really behave? We don’t know; we can only guess. We can try and read their letters, we can try to go back and research, but we don’t really know exactly how they behaved so this can be a very complex genre to work in.
Could you tell me a little about your casting choices, particularly of Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander?
Yeah, absolutely. Mads, I was a big fan of him, I knew a lot of his work. When I wrote the script I thought of him immediately because I thought he would embody this character quite perfectly. As soon as I finished the script, I basically sent it to him and just hoped for the best, and I was lucky that he had been doing American films for about five years, like “Casino Royale” and “Clash of the Titans,” and he was ready to come back to Denmark for one or two films. I was very lucky that he liked the script immediately. I think he called me just a couple days after I sent it to him and said “yes.”
As for Alicia, I was casting a lot of girls throughout Denmark and I just couldn’t find the right one. Then I went to Sweden and I found her there, basically.
One of my favorite aspects of the film was the cinematography. Do you have a favorite shot or sequence that you’re particularly proud of?
I do enjoy a lot of the outdoor scenes, which I think it’s always wonderful to do outdoor scenes. There’s one sequence in particular that I really like, which is one of the final scenes where the doctor is being taken to the execution and you don’t know whether he’s being pardoned or not. I think it’s one of those scenes where we were really happy with what we’d done and the weather was really perfect for that.
Sometimes you get lucky when you do outdoor scenes – sometimes the weather is exactly what you want and sometimes it’s not what you want. We spent a lot of time getting the right colors. We wanted this sort of bluish tone for it and not necessarily the old-school sepia tone that a lot of historical dramas have, so I think I’m quite pleased with that.
What do you hope audiences walk away with after seeing “A Royal Affair”?
Mostly, in terms of American audiences, I do hope – and I do think a lot of American audiences have already recognized this based on the reviews I get from festivals, etc. – that it has some quite contemporary ideas in it, you know, it speaks to modern politics almost. It’s a film that reflects a lot of the discussions going on in politics today – rich and poor, health care, freedom of speech, all of these things that are still being discussed today. I think it’s quite interesting, that those ideas are basically the same discussions that we’re having and I think that’s quite telling.